Ex-NRA chief tricked into speech to 3,044 empty chairs for gun victims

·2 min read

A YouTube video shows David Keene, two-time president of the National Rifle Association, donning a cap and gown to speak to thousands of students from James Madison Academy on their graduation day.

Keene asks the students to uphold the second amendment that their school’s namesake James Madison took part in drafting.

But when the camera pans, there is a haunting scene of thousands of empty white chairs – 3,044 to be exact – with no students to fill them. These represent the seniors from this year’s graduating class who died from gun violence. The school is not a real one.

The gun safety organization Change the Ref released a series of videos on Wednesday in which advocates tricked pro-gun figures into addressing empty chairs representing high school youths shot and killed before they could graduate.

The organization was founded by Patricia and Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was one of 17 people murdered in the Parkland school shooting in 2018.

“We’re talking about losing your son or daughter. I cannot find anything more painful in life than that,” said Manuel Oliver in one of the films.

In another, John Lott Jr, author of More Guns, Less Crime, denounces universal background checks as audio of frantic children calling 911 during school shootings is overlaid. “They were shooting into my classroom,” one girl said, shortly before a series of gunshots is heard.

In a statement to multiple media outlets, Change the Ref said: “This campaign is not about tricking a couple of NRA members, it’s about showing how thousands of empty chairs during graduations have become a normal American tradition.”

When NBC News called Keene’s home, a woman answered and declined to comment on the videos.

According to Everytown Research & Policy, an organization that collects gun statistics, an additional 15,000 students are shot and injured yearly.

”People deny the actual reality, and we cannot allow them to deny it, because this is real, this is happening,” said Patricia Oliver.

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